May 30, 2013

Happiness: Sorry, You Have to Share the 10!

Retirement is all about compromise especially if you are married or in a relationship. But it is a lot easier if both partners are on the same page. When they aren't, the outcome is misery for everyone.

So on a scale of 1-10 how happy are you? Are you married or in a relationship? How happy is your spouse or partner? Do the same things make you both happy? Or do you see things very differently.

What if I were to tell you that when you see things differently, the happiness scales changes? When it comes to expectations for happiness, you only get a total of 10 between the two of you.  So if you are feeling about 8 then the other person in your life is probably only at 2.

It seems that this is the way a lot of retirement relationships work. There is no clear vision of who calls the shots or how relationships should work. Each feels the other needs to lighten up. The other doesn't see the need for doing anything at all so they are thinking "What?". Nobody is really happy and they are both feeling their happiness level at about 5.

But, lets say that one morning in May one of the partners is in a very good mood and decides to make the other happy. Momentarily the scales go wonky and both are at 8 (although that is impossible because the scale doen't go to 16 so it can't last for long). That is when one stays at an 8 and the other sinks down to a 2. If they see things differently, both cannot be happy at the same time. One will get what they want and the other will not.

Or what if one person is a greedy nester. The greedy nester is happiest when every thing they want is at their finger tips or under their control. They pile everything around them and guard the pile vigilantly. The other needs to nest too but all the nesting material is being used up and nothing is left for them. (If you can imagine the nesting material might be money, where you live, how your days are spent, etc.) The scale tips dramatically when all of something is controlled or consumed by one partner. If there is only nesting materials equal to 10 and one partner is controlling all of the 10, that one person is using more than their share and it is not really even fair. Even as a reader I am sure you don't think it is fair either.

It is a little frightening when you think about it. I was surprised when this was pointed out to me. What if I knew that when I am happy my husband is miserable? I would not like that and something would have to change. What do you think? Is there only so much happiness to go around at your house?  How much nesting material do you control?

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May 29, 2013

Book Review: Scafell by Mathew Pink



Have you ever wondered what it would be like to read something a well known mystery writer had written before they became successful. What did that first book, perhaps rejected by the publisher and unpolished by a very good editor, read like? Was it still compelling enough to keep the reader interest and involved? I think I may have just had that experience and I was surprised by the experience.

Matthew Pink was the guest author on my blog this last week and his bio contained a link to his recently published book, Scafell. It is Pink's first novel. I didn't expect much because I am not having good luck with the new fiction coming out right now. But in this particular case I was very wrong.
English: One of the Three Tarns With Sca Fell ...
English: One of the Three Tarns With Sca Fell and Scafell Pike as a backdrop (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Review:
Stephen "Sparky" Markham was a detective in London where he worked close to the line between legal and illegal. He drank a great deal and was at the wheel drunk when he wrecked his car killing his sister and nephew. The police investigation into the accident covered up his guilt. They also pushed for his resignation and made him enlistment in the army where he was sent to Afghanistan. I suppose it was thought he would pay for his guilt while in service of his country. After his release from the military he moved to the Lake District in the UK to live in his grandfathers home. The story started out to be about his time there and how he dealt with his grief and guilt. Then there was an old man, two wandering dogs and a shapeless bag at the edge of a lake. The tale took on a whole new meaning.

The opening page had me hooked. I loved the way he used words:
I read once that, in the movies, they have a name for the first shot which appears on the screen unbuttressed by opening titles or narration or such like.  This shot appears just - bam - as if someone clapped or blinked or clicked some magic fingers.  And there it is.
They call it the "Cold Open."
My favourite version of a cold open throws wide a rainy location framing a landscape foreign to me in a world I do not yet know.
Every time I open the heavy back door of my cottage in the mornings I am reminded of this kind of shot.  
The strength of this book lies not only in the twists and turns of the tale but also in the authors ability to set the stage for what is to come. I thought the "cold open" was a perfect introduction to a part of the UK noted for its fall rain and more rain.  It also seemed to fore-shadow the story based on the cold realities of evil.

Murder and intrigue are nothing new to the mystery genre but how the author puts it all together can keep the reader involved until the last word on the page. The story line in Scafell is reminiscent of Stieg Larson's books about the postitute trade in Europe and a little bit Micky Spillane was thrown in just for fun.  I thought the book had some quirky flaws but in the end I found it very charming. I even wondered whether the quirkiness was by design.

So, in the end I did think the story this new author told was wonderful.  I would recommend it!

In his bio, Pink says this is only the beginning of the "Sparky Markham" series. After reading the first book,  I certainly hope so because I want to know what happens next.

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May 28, 2013

Is there an anti-aging cream that works?

How old ????????
Quote: Do not regret growing old.  It is a privilege denied to many.

I know, we all go into denial when it come to aging. There was a time in our society when not only did people die young but it was better that way. Growing old was very hard. But now that we have dentistry and wonderful medical care, growing old is expected. This good right? We should be grateful when we actually reach 50 or 60 or 70 or 80? But NO...we cannot do that. 

Have you seen the infomercial by Cindy Crawford about her anti-aging line of creams and lotions. They show two melons, one is rotten and the other is fresh as the day it was picked. Whenever that was. The line is that the melon holds the secret to staying young FOREVER. Honestly, you can try to sell a substance made of a fruit that never grows old Cindy Crawford, but in every sense of the word I am not buying it! It is just plain dumb to spend my time smearing fruit juice on my face. It will not work at all I don't think. But then that is just me.

So do you think there is something out there that can stop me from growing old? If so, what is it and have you tried it? I am all ears!

Until that time I will not regret growing old. It is a privilege denied to many.

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May 27, 2013

Harry S. Truman's Remembered on Memorial Day


It Crossed My Mind Blog, May 2009

Today a fellow blogger wrote a post from her home in Provence. It was about the fields of poppies that are in bloom. Corey Amaro from Tongue in Cheek told about traditions in France, back road drives and the beauty of late Spring. I was reminded about a visit my husband and I made to the Harry S. Truman Library in Independence, Missouri many years ago where a single faded poppy caught my eye.

Harry Truman served in WWI when he was a young man. He was courting his wife, Bess, at that time and he sent her a poppy he had picked in a place that was once a medieval country in northern France and southern Belgian called Flanders. The flower had been pressed it in the leaves of a book. I have always imagined it was the battle field Bible so many soldiers carried over their hearts.  The poppy later was recreated in paper and veterans sold them on street corners around Memorial Day here in the USA. They were also a vibrant symbol of the suffering of a great country in the UK.

The tradition has been carried on by the Veterans of Foreign Wars ever since. My heart ached when I read Truman's letter to Bess. I have looked for a copy online but cannot find it. As I remember it he said, "If I were a sob sister, I would cry over all the lives that were lost in The Fields of Flanders where the beautiful poppies bloom this time of year."

I could only think that nature has a way of cleaning up when we humans continue to make a mess of things. I write about this every year because I think it is the story worth retelling. Memorial Day is that holiday when we set some time aside to remember our veterans. We continue to “make a mess of things” and in the soil where young men and women have lost their lives, flowers will grow once more. How can we help but not be “sob sisters” at times like these! Just a thought.

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Note: I received an message from a Facebook source about the letter I mentioned above. This is the first time I have had a chance to read it since I was in the library many years ago.  Here is the paragraph I was referencing:
I walked out to the O[bservation] P[ost] the other day (yesterday) to pick an adjusting point and I found two little flowers alongside the trench blooming right in the rock. I am enclosing them. The sob sisters would say that they came from the battle-scarred field of Verdun. Theywere in sight and short range of Heinie and were not far from the two most famous forts of this line of defense. You can keep them or throw them away but I thought they'd be something. One's a poppy, the other is a pink or something of the kind. A real sob sister could write a volume about the struggle of these pretty little flowers under the frowning brows of Douarmont the impregnable.
I was very grateful for this information. I did not have the facts quite right in the post above but the central thought remains the same.

FTI: Douaumont was the scene of a vicious  World War I battle that began Feb. 21, 1916 and lasted for 10 months.  It was between the Germans and the French. Modern estimates are that 976,000 men were lost.   The letter from Harry S. Truman to Bess was written in November of 1918.  Douaumont was said to be the strongest fort in all of Europe at that time.  WW I began on July 28, 1914 and ended on November 11, 1918.
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May 25, 2013

The New York Times and Barbara on China's Economy


Link: The Year of the Pig (It Crossed My Mind)
I saw an article in the New York Times this week talking about the Chinese economy and the central government in Beijing proposing a radical new plan to unleash the business community. The Times says the party is considering....

…reducing government intervention in the marketplace and giving competition among private businesses a bigger role in investment decisions and setting prices. The overhauls, if successful, could also make China an even stronger competitor on the global stage by encouraging innovation and expanding the middle class.

My husband and I have been to China three times now.  We stayed for 3 or more seeks each time we entered the country.  We have traveled on subways, taken taxis and shopped....a lot.  While we don't really understand what is going on in that country, we definitely have a feel for what it takes to function.

Giving up control of markets and weaning the business sector off the financial support they have become accustomed to is going to be very difficult for government run businesses but that artificial market place is not what we saw come into play on a day-to-day basis. I don't think it is the story behind the Chinese way of life and how the common man and woman functions in that culture. There is now and always has been a whole world of business that does not even see the light of day. This is where the real China lives, works and shops.

Shanghai
We visit expat family in the eastern part of Shanghai (Pu Dong). Pu Dong is translated as east of the river and it is a huge very modern "city" that stretches from the Huang Pu waterway east to the Shanghai International Airport and beyond. It is home to huge foreign manufacturing companies. In order for us to visit  Shanghai central (Pu Xi), a shuttle, taxis and a long subway ride is required. There are train changes and sprawling underground stations to maneuver. This is where the real story of commerce in that huge city begins.

Substations on the subway have become the home to every kind of market. When we went to China the first time in t 2006, those markets that sold knock-off goods operated in open air spaces very near the city center.  There was no attempt to hide or even control all of the merchandise that came out of the back doors of manufacturers.  But when the world came to visit, the Communist party was the recipient of an outcry by the US government asking  them to stop selling US products at a cut-rate price. China wanted to fit into the world market so they made an effort to at least make this segment of the business community less visible. They wanted to give the outside world the impression that they were trying to control the sales of illegal knock-off goods. 

So the obvious solution was to move the markets into their ever-expanding subway system. Out of sight out of mind. For the over six years we have been visiting Shanghai, the market we used has been moved several times. But the beat goes on. The people know where they will be relocated by word of mouth.  Even expats are privy to the information if they pay attention.

This underground world does not appear to be under the Communist Party control. I cannot imagine that there is not a lot of protection money exchanged but who knows. They are definitely not following the Party line. Vendors are setting prices and bargaining is necessary if the buyer wants get a fair price. If you are going to navigate this world, you will need to learn to offer less than the vendor is asking. The Chinese people are adept as the process and like any other county in the world that has a culture like this, unrepentant if they get more than they are due. 

On the other hand, if you are traveling in the country with a tour guide or with a group of tourist in a large group, you will be taken to government-controlled businesses. Local goods like pearls, silk and jewelry are sold at these stores and a "fixed price" system is used. Bargaining is not allowed. This is China’s version of a “tourist trap”. 

Even in People's Square in Shanghai the government must be controlling prices at the Chinese owned department stores. We could not afford to buy anything in those places. In fact, the quality of the goods was shoddy and unattractive. I would not have bought them at any price. Basic items like socks or sweaters were very scarce. Children’s clothing was nowhere to be found. We wondered how they could even stay in business. I don't imagine they could without government support. The competition from the foreign owned department stores doing business in the country now is becoming more and more of a problem for them I think.

While huge grocery stores and big box stores serve expats and the more wealthy Chinese citizens in Pu Dong, the villages and back streets are home to markets where the local Chinese buy their clothing, food and fresh vegetables. We have not shopped for food in these places but we have seen where the produce is grown and how animals are hung to season along side the road. We would not survive this food but it is fine for those living with the conditions. It is neither bad nor good...it just is.

Beijing
We traveled with a tour guide in Beijing before the Olympics. She was with us for 3 days. A driver accompanied us and he controlled how long we were required to stay at government-sponsored businesses. We ate together and the driver always sat beside the guide. I don’t know who was listening to whom but there was a feeling that each was a little uncertain of the other. In fact, the tour guide actually whispered behind the drivers back when we asked about things like communes once used for the re-education of social dissidents. We were treading on thin ice when we even asked and we knew it. It didn't take us long to get a feeling for the veil of secrecy surrounding everything in that world, even it's history.

I might add here that our tour guide was either a Party member herself or would be one day. She had been raised with the ideals, touted the virtues of Chairman Mao in a way that left you no doubt about her feelings and truly loved her way of life. She told us her parents knew every word of the Beijing Opera and attended as often as they could. She was evidently raised with educated people around her.

But...the guide was more than willing to take us to knock-off markets. While she did take us to the government-sponsored business as required, she did not push the products. She and the driver may have been paid a fee for just bringing in buyers. I bought silk, pearls and pirated recordings of American and Chinese music on side streets. She would tell us if the goods we were looking at in the government stores were priced right or not. We traveled north of Beijing down back roads to the Great Wall and we were taken to eat at her favorite restaurant where we caught the fish that were prepared especially for us. We watched real “Chinese noodles” being prepared in the window of the restaurant she said was her family’s favorite.

Every time she did something outside the normal, she would say, "Don't tell anyone!" But it seems that money talks no matter where you are.  She knew she would be tipped generously if she did what we wanted and liked. She also knew that more business would come her way if we liked what we saw. She and the driver tiptoed around the legal, expected and financially expedient.

So in China the free enterprise system is alive and well down at the level where the majority of the people live. I think there really is no way to control it. The officials are golden as long as they make money for the country and one gets the feeling that the bribe system is alive and well. I believe that is why you see horrible incidents like poisoning of children with milk cut with chemicals, tainted tooth paste or schools collapsing killing the students. I think the officials are rewarded or have a private interest in keeping construction and manufacturing costs down. There is no "doing the right thing" and they are only punished if something goes wrong. They are willing to take the chance because the rewards outweigh what happens if things go wrong. Business is much the same there as it is here in the United States.

It will be very interesting to see the changes that take place in China if the free market is unleashed and the private sector is allowed or forced to take control of their own world. I have a feeling that many of those government owned businesses will fail. I cannot even speculate on how the changes will trickle down to the markets hidden around every corner in that country. 

We will be going back soon but we are able to afford to buy less and less each time we go. The climate is changing and prices are going up everywhere. We see the expansion of the upper class and the wealth being displayed by young people able to tap into the business market and what it had to offer. It is absolutely amazing. Shanghai is looking a lot more like the Paris of the East it was touted as being before the revolution. In order for us to see what we saw just six years ago, we need to go farther out, away from the city center or into the subway tunnels. In fact, before long,  I think we will need to go to Vietnam.

As for these economic changes, the Times says:

To succeed, China’s leaders will have to fend off powerful interest groups, as well as corrupt officials who have grown accustomed to using their political power to enrich themselves and their families through bribes and secret stakes in companies.

Maybe the time for change is becoming evident even to officials. Or maybe they have begun to acknowledge what is already happening. The economy is slowing down and there is a feeling in the wind I think. Some of the people of China are waiting I suppose. But for the vast majority of the Chinese people, life will go on as it has for thousands of years.  



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May 23, 2013

Travel: The Best Places to Relax in The UK’s Peak District


A neatly kept mini-patchwork quilt of lush valleys, velvet meadows, characterful Victorian market towns and gloriously open moorland, the UK’s Peak District sits plumb in the middle of the country’s backbone.

Myth has it that the Peak District is the second most visited national park in the world after Mount Fuji. Whether your innate scepticism reflex can put that aside for a moment or not, once there you can certainly see why that might be true (and not just because of its geographical fortuitousness at the mid-point between the capitals of London and Edinburgh).

In many ways, the region (actually not that ‘peaky’ - you may be surprised to know) concisely captures many a picture of the hallowed rural England which film director Danny Boyle tried to represent in a segment of his London Olympics fandango: that rich verdant sheen, the chocolate-box villages, myriad colour-flecked flowerbeds and sheep - lots of sheep. Moreover, if you didn’t quite twig what was meant by the phrase ‘rolling countryside’ - when you have spent a week or two nosing round the different corners of the Peak District, you certainly will.

So, if you’re planning a nice trip to the UK soon, you may want to fold in a little trip to the Peakland, hole up in a cute little two-up two-down and explore the region. Here are some suggestions of the most relaxing spots to visit while you’re there;

Dovedale

Pictorially famous for its linear stepping stones, the views here are pretty definitive of the region as a whole. As the name suggests, as long as you miss the crowds on really sticky days, the peaceful feeling that permeates the valley is one to savour. Just a little further up the burbling stream, the heights on the left are known as Dovedale Castle.

A little further on is a grassy tuft locally nicknamed Lovers’ Leap which takes its moniker from a folk tale recounting a distraught maiden who threw herself off said tuft after a particularly disastrous romantic rejection. Fortunately, you are almost guaranteed to have a much more positive experience!


Chatsworth House

The majesty of Chatsworth House and its grounds has not gone unnoticed by film directors and television producers down the years. Nestled in a prime spot overlooking the Derwent and Wye valleys, Chatsworth and its extensive estate makes for a thoroughly enjoyable day out.

Rent a deck chair and pull up a pew mid-way up the slope of the main lawn and watch the bubbling weir on the River Derwent and the people passing by and take in the tree-covered hillside, the magnificent hunting tower, and the faded golden hue of the bridge down below.

Buxton

Constructed around thermal springs in the Wye valley, the delightful Roman settlement town of Buxton is now something of a cultural hotspot once again with a flourishing arts scene, popular annual festival and a plethora of eye-catching sandstone pavilion-style buildings and gardens, an opera house and classical churches.

That said, the best place to relax here are the natural baths. Sheer bliss.



Bakewell

A fairly typical-looking town for the region, Bakewell is famous for one thing in particular. They are sweet, they are almondy, they are a little jammy. They are the Bakewell Puddings and they are delicious. They are also often confused with their cakey brethren the Bakewell Tarts. Buyer beware - these are not the same sweetstuff at all. (But actually also really rather quite nice).


This in mind, the best thing to do in Bakewell is a find a sweet little traditional tearoom like the Lavender Tea Rooms for example, order yourself a nice fresh pot of English breakfast tea and award yourself a serious treat in the shape of a Bakewell Pudding. Delish.

Guest Author Bio: "Matthew Pink is a writer and editor working in digital publishing covering travel and culture. Originally from the Lake District in northwestern England, he also writes crime fiction which is set there. Scafell is his first novel."

May 22, 2013

Small Space Living: Remodeling? Angies List

Okay, I told you yesterday that I was looking at carpet for our master bedroom.  Sure enough the Sleep Number bed is in and I will need to have delivery delayed because the carpet will not be here for 2-3 weeks...maybe sooner if I push the process along. This is a learning process it seems. Even though we have gone through similar things many times before, the rules keep changing. And I have a cold so I am working with a big cloud hanging over my head. Thank heavens for my wonderful husband!

The Plan
I had thought I would go with one of those quick install companies you find across the US. It seemed simple and they would come to your house with samples.  Easy peasy...right? Then I got a little worried and decided to check reviews on line at places like 3 Cent Worth and Yelp. Wow! It seems from the comments made, having the carpet salesman come into your home was a bit like letting the vacuum cleaner salesman step in the door.  The old bait and switch, etc., seemed to be what people were complaining about. I was ready to cancel right then but I wanted to make sure that the bad reviewer were not the only ones commenting.


Click for link: promo code
Angie's List
I had been thinking of signing up for Angie's List for quite a while. My family had been using them so I had a feel for how it worked. The yearly fee was around $35 per year but if I signed up using my Paypal account and the promo code I found online, the amount went down to $16.81. I bought it.

Angie's List users commented on the company I was thinking of using. It was not a good as I had hoped. Angies's  gave the carpet dealership a B grade. I don't know about you but B is not good enough for me when I am talking about my home. I cancelled the appointment.

Home Depot
We decided to go with our local Home Depot. We have dealt with them over a long period of time and feel comfortable with our store here in town. It is very good, reliable and honest. The salesman did not bait and switch. If a service costs extra he did not shrink from telling us so.

Why Use the Home Depot Card
The suggestion was made that we take the full 6 month interest free payment period to pay off the Home Depot credit card debt. If we do that we will be notified of any promos that might come up on the carpet we purchased during that period of time. We could then take advantage of more savings.

We get a 5% discount every time we use the card BUT we have to ask for it or they do not do it...let me repeat...it is not automatic!

The Process Starts Thursday
So that is where we are.  I will let you know how the rest goes.  The installation people will come measure on Thursday and we can have the whole thing in the works by Monday if I push things along.

Wish me luck!

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Keep your fingers crossed for us!

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May 21, 2013

Small Space Living: Bedroom Carpet Dilemma

From Apartment Therapy
Okay now we are getting ready to upgrade our carpet in the master of our little retirement community home.

The bed we have been using was returned to Costco because I felt like I was falling out of bed all night. My husband and I were fighting for the middle space. It was the safe part of the bed. Incidentally Costco gave us a full refund even though we purchased the bed in 2010.

The room is empty as we wait for the delivery of our Sleep Number bed in a week or so.  Hopefully, we can locate the perfect carpet and have it put down within the next few days. Yikes!

So what is the best carpet for the bedroom? Anybody have any suggestions or ideas?  Help!

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May 20, 2013

Money Cannot Buy the Perfect Graduation Gift


The perfect graduation gift has no monetary value. It something only an open heart and hand can give. It is the freedom to fly and fall, then fly again.
My husband was a high school principal and we are the parents of 3 children and 12 grandchildren. We know what graduation means and how important it is to families across our nation. It is a right of passage for families and a wonderful privilege. 

This time sees parents feeling that twinge of relief and regret all at once. The empty nest looms and they are hoping that they have raised their child to be ready for what is to come next. Their guidance is more important now than it ever was but finding a way to communicate with their child also difficult. 

On the other hand the grandparents are less useful than they have been in the past. Where do my husband and I fit into this mix at this point in our life?  The truth is we are only onlooking-perfect-gift-givers and smilers this time around.

The dilemma we face now is knowing what that perfect gift is. We have a son graduating with his Master Degree in Business and his daughter is graduating from high school and facing her college years. We also have a grandson getting ready to finish basic training in the Marines. All are big occasions in our family's life... commencements for both the children and their families. We have such high hopes. This gift giving season is more important than any other. We want to present the graduates with something they can hold on to for the rest of their life but the perfect gift is not tangible.

I am aware that my gift may be chosen because it reflects what I hope our young people will do with their life when I should be honoring what the children see as their future. I remind myself that each child must find their own way in their own way. The difficult thing for my husband and I is that we know too much.  We are full of information and advice, none of it wanted or, in the view of the youngers, even useful. We are relegated to watching. It is hard.

When my youngest son received his Masters Degree this week, the commencement speaker said something I liked a lot. He said, "Don't be afraid to take risks because the only person that will remember a failure is you. But more importantly, many successes are built on the rubble of failure." I liked that a lot.

In truth, the thought I am having now is that I should not worry so much. If people a lot wiser than myself know that a misstep is not a bad thing, then I should embrace the risks my children and their children take. They are strong and smart. They will be fine.

So I think that the perfect gift is not money or a worldly possession. The most valuable of gifts cannot be held in your hand.

A box containing "hope" and "surprises" would be perfect.  It could contain "moving on cards" that allow them to forgive themselves for what they see is as not good enough. It would be filled with "courage" and "laughter" and above all "kindness". "Work ethic" would top the box off to over flowing.  Oh, and there would be "ideas" and "creativity" too.  That is what I would like to give. After all, life is very short and in the end it is about a huge passion and love for the journey. 

While I know money cannot buy those things nor is there a box big enough to hold them, I also know that with our encouragement the child can find these gifts inside their own head and heart. That is where my husband and I fit in this picture. I remain hopeful.

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